All across America, frantic, frenzied parents are driving their borderline-adult children and their stuff to their next station in life. Whether heading to college or to first apartments, the wheels of the bus are going round and round.
The highway is a mash-up of U-Hauls and SUVs piled with lamps and laundry baskets, wishes and worries, pillows and parkas, hopes and heartaches, as caravans of parents head off to help kids fly the nest to build their own.
Last weekend, my youngest daughter, Marissa, 22, and I were part of that bittersweet brigade.
Having done the drill before, I’m familiar with the mixed emotions.
Raising kids to the point where they can launch independent lives means we parents have done our jobs. It also means our jobs are done. So while I pat myself on the back with one hand, I dab tears with the other.
To snap myself out of my soppy stupor, I get practical.
“So,” I ask Marissa, “what do you have for your new place besides your clothes?” I’m trying to imagine what all she might need to furnish the one-bedroom condo that will be her home through grad school.
“A French press and a spatula,” she says.
“That’s it?” The girl can do regression calculus, but can’t outfit a kitchen.
“Actually, I gave my spatula to my old roommate,” she says.
Fortunately, DC and I have some cast-off furniture, vestiges of our move to our new house last November. When Marissa learned that the kitchen table was too small for the new house, the blue sofa and love seat were the wrong color, and the bookcase was redundant, she happily laid claim.
Now, before I go further, I know what you’re thinking. Yes, I have said loudly and often: “Parents, your kids don’t want your stuff!” And that is still true. Except for when they do.
We load a 10-foot rental truck with hand-me-down furniture, boxes of Marissa’s clothes and books, and her first official furniture purchase: a full-size mattress, box spring and bed frame. “Good-bye twin XL!” she cries with glee.
Then, I climb into the U-Haul, and she gets into her tuna-can of a car, and we, and all her worldly possessions, begin our 12-hour, 700-mile migration from our home in Orlando to her new first place in Nashville.
On the open road, I start mentally running through what we have in tow, and what more she could need. When I think of her new bed, I get wistful again. From cradle to crib, from daybed to dorm, I have made this child’s bed. And now ...
Oh for heaven’s sake! I smack myself.
It’s no use. Overcome with mom-ness, I make a phone call to my friend Missy Tannen, founder of Boll & Branch, a company that makes pure-cotton luxury bedding, including super-soft sheets that get softer with time, just like me.
“I want to order bedding for Marissa’s first place,” I say, over the road noise.
“I’m getting tons of calls like this right now,” she says, “mostly from mothers sending care packages to their daughters.”
“It’s time they get rid of their tired college bedding and lumpy old pillows,” I say, because if I start talking about her crib I will lose it.
I order organic-cotton sheets, fresh down pillows, a waffle-weave blanket, a down insert and a duvet cover in white cotton with a shore-blue band. I feel immeasurably better.
Tannen, a mom to three daughters, gets it. “Moms do this so they know that at the end of the day, no matter what else happens, their kids have a soft place to land.”
“That’s exactly it!” I say.
Though I cannot buffer Marissa from life’s hard knocks — from inconsiderate bosses, bad neighbors, unreasonable professors, unforeseen expenses, or bad break ups — the one thing I can do is provide a soft landing at the end of her day.
Actually, that’s what this whole move is about. However, like other parents, I battle the twin desires of wanting my daughter to work for what she wants, while also wanting to get her off to a good start — the eternal parental conundrum.
At the condo, we unload the truck. The few furnishings fall into place. After a run to Walmart for groceries, hangers and a shower curtain, the condo looks right as rain. I fly home Sunday. The care package arrives Monday.
That night when Marissa gets into bed, she calls to thank me: “I feel like I’m sleeping inside a giant marshmallow,” she says. I picture her in a bed she bought with her own money, a bed now covered with the softest landing possible, and think, with a small lump in my throat: My work is done.
Having set up a few first places, I marveled again at how little you really need to start a life. Here’s a first-apartment checklist:
• Kitchen basics:
Dishes, cups, glasses, and flatware for four
Cooking utensils (a wooden spoon, spatula, tongs, whisk)
A tea kettle or coffee maker, depending on your brew
A small set of pots and pans, a few cutting knives, mixing bowls
Dishtowels and pot holders
A kitchen table and chairs
A sofa and small table
A lamp or two
A bed, a mattress, and box spring.
• Cleaning supplies:
Mop, broom, vacuum
Bucket, all-purpose cleaner, sponges, detergent
Paper towels, trash bags.
• Household stuff:
Batteries, scissors, clothes hangers
• Bath items:
Towels, shower curtain, toilet paper and sundries
• Something that reminds you of where you came from, like a family photo
• A soft place to land. And you’re done.